One of the biggest attractions to the Caribbean is the reef, which is one of the reasons are coming to the area. Just beyond the beaches of the Riviera Maya and Costa Maya is a reef called the Mesoamerican Reef. It is the largest barrier reef about 700 miles long in our part of the world, second in size to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The beauty of the area is indisputable. It’s a top destination, but that puts pressure on the fragile reef environment. That’s why it is essential to think about what you are wearing before jumping into the water.
It does not matter if you are in a bikini or surf shorts, it is your sunscreen that can be killing the very thing you want to see most on your vacation, the reef. After years of having the need for sunscreen being pounded into your head, you may wonder why sunscreen is bad for the reef.
Certain chemicals which are found in the majority of sunscreens sold in the U.S, wash off your skin and contaminate the marine environment. It is estimated that 14,000 tons, yes tons, of sunscreen washes off and accumulates in the world’s oceans each year. To give you an idea of what a ton weighs, a small car weighs one ton. So all the washed-off sunscreen is equivalent of 14,000 small cars, ends up in the ocean. Would you want to swim in water that has 14,000 small cars in it?
Your sunscreen may be contributing to coral bleaching, inhibiting growth, and it kills some microorganisms too. 😫
Sunscreens are not the only culprit to reef bleaching but R. Scott Winters, the chief executive officer of the Coral Restoration Foundation says “This is one impact that we can control.”. “If we are to be successful in bringing coral reefs back to a healthy state, it is incredibly important that people visiting them choose sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone.”
What is in your sunscreen? Read the list of ingredients. The big no-no’s is oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is found in the majority of sunscreens sold in the US.
You can reduce the risk of harming coral by taking a more “reef friendly” approach to sun protection.
CHECK THE LABELS: While no sunscreen has been proven to be completely “reef-friendly,” those with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients, have not been found harmful to corals. Sunscreens sold for children or for those with sensitive skin may contain these gentler compounds as the active ingredients.
COVER UP: You can protect yourself as well as the reef by “covering-up” before you enter the water. On the water, wear hats, sunglasses, and light, long-sleeved clothing to protect you. In the water, a long-sleeved shirt or rash guard will help prevent sunburn.
If you are headed to parks such as Xel-Ha and Chankanaab Park in Cozumel, these parks ban the use of non-biodegradable sunscreen. At Xel-Ha, if you have an unapproved sunscreen, you can swap yours in for samples of safe products and get their own back when they exit the park.
So what to buy? Well, be careful “Reef Safe” or “Reef Friendly” claims on sunscreen labels are unregulated and therefore could be meaningless. You really have to look at the ingredients and judge for yourself.
Here are a few of the Safe Sunscreen Council’s recommendations for sunscreen:
Reduce the amount of sunscreen you leave behind…